Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Old Boyfriend for Lunch, Husband Included

The story is simple enough. Old acquaintances, let’s call them friends, maybe even one time lovers-of-a-sort reconnect through Facebook. Even though it begins as a tired cliché, unexpected connections slowly form. Living thousands of miles apart, their chances of meeting again are next to nil until a class reunion beckons one of them home once more.

Thus begins a play or a novel I haven’t written yet. The basic concept has been tugging at my curiosity, seeping into my consciousness for a while now. Relationships, even in their simplest form, can be complex, confusing and a puzzle for the mind, if one wants to go there.

A luncheon is arranged. Of course, the current husband would be included. How crass not to invite him along when it’s just an old boyfriend and nothing could possibly happen after fifty plus years. Or could it?

The old boyfriend is calm in his skin. The miles traveled and past emotions haven’t sublimated his curiosity because it’s held in check with a life well lived and future miles anticipated. The meeting will answer a few of those vexing questions that have arisen since their first e-mail re-connection. The current husband - not a problem. The old boyfriend is curious what her partner of 50 years is 'like'. He was the one who married her. He was the one who won her heart.

My treatment doesn’t have the humor of ‘Barefoot in the Park’ meets the drama of ‘Same time, Next Year’ yet but the intent is there. The reunion could go any number of ways. It could be a total bust, an embarrassment for everyone involved, a rekindling of old feelings, or unanswered questions still left unresolved. It’s anything but predictable. As the day of the encounter draws near, plans begin to unravel. At least that’s the premise of the play as it stands right now.

One scenario is a mix up in meetings, perhaps a time delay, and a change of plans. Suddenly that oft-anticipated meeting might not happen after all. Another scenario is that she decides to bail out at the last minute. One of the parties is relieved, the other not surprised that the meeting never took place in the first place.
I won’t reveal which scenario is edging for prominence in my mind. The parties involved already know. It’s the accumulation of a series of e-mails back and forth that only hinted of getting reacquainted. Perhaps it was never meant to be in the first place.

It’s like a who-done-it without villains or heroes. It’s a conclusion that many observers would have guessed correctly if left to their own devices. It’s reality that one of the parties hasn’t grasped yet. It’s the ‘real world’ minus its cloak of inquiring e-mails that hint of promises made.

It’s that often-asked yet seldom answered question of ‘whatever happened to?’ The emotions gone vapid down through the ages and the absent of warm eyes connecting have made any semblance of a real reunion a challenge at best. In the safe setting of salad and entree, true feelings are seldom shared or revealed. Welcome to the real world minus station breaks and advertisements.

There is still a lot of work left to flesh out my characters and give them depth and purpose. Reunions are always fun to write about. I loved writing ‘Club 210’ and thoroughly enjoyed its performances last summer at the Steeple Center in Rosemount. Maybe this treatment will become another play that explores relationships under the microscope of a theatrical performance. It’s made up drama under the guise of a play and only the audience gets to guess if it resembles real life or not.

Then again, perhaps nothing will happen to this idea after all. It might languish in my pile of unfinished manuscripts just begging for time to complete. The premise is a good one. The storyline is intriguing. The real question is whether I can come up with a scenario that people believe. I think I can, because the truth - in all of its unwashed accoutrements - is often more entertaining than fiction itself.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Retracing Cobblestone Steps

Many of the streets in downtown Saint Paul were made of cobblestone pavers long before the turn of the twentieth century. Gradually as the streetcars were discontinued and replaced by buses in the early 1950s, the streets were paved over and make smooth with asphalt.

This little known and totally inconsequential fact pricked a memory bubble in my mind not long ago. Those cobblestone pavers were some of the first that I stepped on as an infant. I was born and raised in Saint Paul and even though I now find myself in a third tier suburb out of the city, the memories are still there. I can go back and find connections all over the city. I’ve watched the curious and sometimes neglectful changes the city has gone through in mostly subtle but profound ways. Twin Cities Public Television captured it best in their ‘Lost Twin Cities’ documentary series.

I think where you grew up to a certain extent defines who you are and what you’ve become. It can be a reflection of your values, interests and affiliations. I have no problem being defined by my mid-western roots. And old Saint Paul isn’t a bad place to be from. While you can’t go back home again figuratively speaking you can revisit those times and places that impacted your life in many unnoticed and yet profound ways.

The first home I don’t remember was on Smith Avenue. It was a tired old duplex that never survived the demise of the Smith Avenue Playground and creation of United Hospital. Then there was a six-plex apartment near Irving Park. That structure also succumbed to the realignment of the neighborhood. Finally we created a real home on Randolph Avenue where I grew up.

For eight years, St. Louis Catholic grade school was a streetcar then bus ride to downtown Saint Paul. In the afternoon, my sister and I would park ourselves outside the the W.T. Grant Department store and wait for the Highland Park bus with ten cents in our pockets.

Our gang in the photo booth (photo by Jerry Hoffman)

Cretin Track & Field (photo by Jerry Hoffman)

Randolph & Hamline (photo by Jerry Hoffman)

Cretin High School was six blocks away from our home and a world apart from what I knew growing up. A paper route during those formative years got me up at 4:30 each morning and taught me the value of real work. Then the John Wood Steel factory just off of Como Avenue reinforced the need for more education to keep me out of that factory setting.

The College of St. Thomas was yet another world apart from the middle class world I grew up in. It was a hint of the future for those with a college education.

KTCA Television on Como Avenue wasn’t my first job. That first exposure to the work force was with the Minnesota Department of Public Health on the University of Minnesota Minneapolis campus. Run down housing on University Avenue just south of Dinkytown was my first foray into independent living and away from the security of home.

The Annual Catholic Appeal in the Hill House on Summit Avenue was the draw that got me back from the east coast. Telstar Educational Corporation on Prior Avenue was the next step along the way. Then back to KTCA Television on Como Avenue and finally TPT relocated to Lowertown in St. Paul.

Then it was working in public television, running my own business and managing two apartment buildings on Portland Avenue that kept me in St. Paul for many more years to come. It finally culminated with my running the Twin Cities Marathon with my daughter and a move back to my home office in Apple Valley.

Now my daughter and her family have moved to Highland Park, just two blocks away from my old paper route. Funny how some things change and yet others remain the same.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Sad and Lonesome Death of DVDs

The first inkling that things were changing came right under my nose came as I was driving home with our Chevy Impala rental car. As usual my fingers went probing for the CD slot to play my favorite music. None could be found. When I inquired at the rental car company they stared at me through the phone. My kids were less kind and laughed at me. So I went to my secret advisor and Google stated quite simply that General Motors no longer equipped their new cars with such antiquated means of carrying a tune.

Well, pardon me for missing that seismic change in my life” I thought out loud. When did someone decide that the old reliable CD or, DVD for that matter, was no longer cutting edge technology? I guess the answer is ‘everyone else.’ I just didn’t notice those changes coming fast and furious all around me.

Now instead of delivering packages of entertainment and distraction through the mail or in retail stores, it’s all gone ‘streaming.’ There are streaming movies, streaming cable series and streaming music services. Anything under the sun is for sale on our computer screen. Oops, I misspoke. I meant to say on our tiny iPhone screen. So much for checking the mail every day or visiting my local music shop. Now I can sit on my butt, munch on bon-bons, and get everything and anything I desire (not need, mind you) at the touch of my fingertips.

But try as it might, technology hasn’t won me over quite yet. Case in point, I have an old but reliable Sony turntable and CD / tape player downstairs. Truth be told. I don’t use it very often. But the sound is still good and the emotions emoted still comforting. The same can be said for my stack of LPs (that’s long playing) records.

I never got into 8 track tapes or reel to reel audio recorders. But there is a shelf of audio tapes still down stars. Until the untimely demise of my Ford Escape I had a good place to play them. But atlas I still have an old cassette player to take up the slack when the mood strikes me.

I never got into video discs and my collection of VHS and DVD movies hasn’t moved much. But they’re still a source of enjoyment some evenings. Despite what Hollywood would like you to believe they actually made good movies before the present hysteria over the latest summer blockbuster. I was never tempted to switch to Blue ray or Digital DVDs. Now even those devices are old fashioned and quickly being replaced by ‘The Cloud’ and other streaming services.

Progress marches on. My flip phone will soon be obsolete. If Microsoft finds out that I’ve still got Windows 4 to back up my Windows 7 they’d probably come and shut me down. Oh, my, how do I survive?

Perhaps it’s a good thing I wasn’t born around the turn of the century. I have nothing against the horseless carriage but horses are a noble animal. And I wouldn’t have to change their oil. It’s all part of a paradigm shift taking place 24/7 in our lives. From entertainment to medicine to transportation to everyday living, the only constant seems to be constant change.

For the last hundred years we’ve been sucked into this reflective prism called ‘new.’ New is good. Old is bad. It’s as simple as that. Even back in 1946 a portable typewriter was the end all be all…until a couple of years later they sparked the keys with electricity.

Don’t get me wrong. I love using Google Drive. I love sharing my thoughts and ideas through my blogs (400 and counting). I love showing my brand on Facebook; 3 separate sites, and Twitter (although I don’t use it) and LinkedIn to expand my reach.

Self-publishing has been a God-send in terms of publishing and sharing my novels. That in turn has given me increased credibility as a playwright and screenwriter.

But time marches on, leaving only fading memories in its wake. I think it’s OK to hold on those old musical tools of the trade while the rest of technology morphs away along with our past lives. I accept that one has to keep up with the crowd or at least graciously accept those constant changes. I’ll do so when it fits my work routine or presents new avenues of distraction. So goes the circle of life.

In the meantime, I still get to keep my audio tapes, LPs, VHS and DVD tapes. When the mood strikes I can always retreat downstairs and get lost in my music and movies. On the road, my 2015 Toyota Camry has a CD player so I intend to keep it going forever or until…

It’s comforting to know that the music never has to end.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Through Younger Eyes

The question was always key to our travels abroad. How much would the youngest in our group really pick up and understand from foreign travel? If she was too young it would be wasted on her. Too old and a hundred thousand other distractions might take away from the excitement and educational value of being aboard if only for a brief moment in time.

We pondered that question when Sharon decided that as a gift from her children she wanted to return to London with both families. How would the youngest in our entourage handle traveling abroad?

A precocious and very intuitive seven-year-old Charlotte passed the test and our respective families were off to London and Paris. Her brother at nine years old and their cousins at nine and twelve years old respectively were all well equipped to ‘get it’ as we foraged our way through the customs, culture and excitement of both London and Paris.

At first glance, it might seem like privileged travel for my five grandchildren. I was twenty-one before I took my first plane ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles in a turbo-prop airliner. I didn’t travel abroad until I was twenty-four. My own kids took that up a notch by traveling to England twice when they were both in their teens.

Privileged yes, but without apology. We hope to impart on my grandchildren ‘real world’ experiences instead of material things. Experiences they can use as life lessons for a lifetime. It’s hands-on grand-parenting instead of the Daddy Warbucks approach. It’s about giving them our shared wisdom learned over a lifetime and a respect for other people and places around the world.

So how did the grandchildren do during their time abroad? Just fine, thank you, just fine. Travel is always an educational experience in more ways than one. It brings out the best and sometimes the worst in people. Unexpected delays, different customs, strange foods, other beliefs and a change of routine can test even the youngest and certainly the oldest in any group. Our gang passed that test with flying colors. And in the process we all learned just a little bit more about one another.

Nana held classes most evenings. There were lessons in charcoal sketching, rehearsing for a short play, playing poker and journaling their daily experiences, impressions and thoughts of that days excursion around the city.

I watched the boys play ‘Exploding Kittens’ on the back patio which brought forth gales of laughter and glee.

We ended up taking the tube everyday everywhere.

We watched the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace.

The kids loved exploring the Tate Museum, especially the photography exhibit for Maya.

Exploring the National Gallery of Art was interesting but playing paddy cake in the grand plaza was more fun.

The London Eye gave us an unprecedented view of the great city.

Borrowing from their parent’s generation all the kids had to retrace those famous Beatles crossing Abby Road.

One of the most satisfying experiences for Sharon and I was taking our kids to ‘School of Rock’ in the West End Theater District. The play was loud, ambitious, fun and exhilarating even for the seven-year-old. It has set a new standard for us when we have the grandchildren all together again. A love of the theater is something they can carry with them for the rest of their lives.

The Eurostar through the Chunnel was uneventful except for the card games.

A River cruise on the Seine was only topped by climbing the heights of the Eiffel Tower.

The card games and sketching continued through our last meal in town.

In the end, the long time spent waiting at the airport, over 8 hours on the plane then a rush to transfer to a last minute flight from Detroit to Minneapolis proved too much even for an ardent traveler among us.

The same could be said for the Colorado cousins. But Sharon and I are confident that a good time had by all…especially doting grandparents who see even more adventures in our collective future.